Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May '15 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week
American Sniper 
(Warner Brothers)
With this biopic about Chris Kyle, the lethal sniper who terrorized insurgents during his four tours of duty in Iraq, Clint Eastwood has made a surprisingly conventional war movie, flattening out any moral ambiguity by making Kyle a surprisingly one-dimensional hero whose inner struggles are dramatized on the level of a Lifetime Channel movie. It's effective for what it is but could have been much more, especially considering the tremendous acting of Bradley Cooper as Kyle and the equally stunning Sienna Miller as his wife Tyla. The movie looks good on Blu; extras are two featurettes.

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man 
(Shout Factory)
This bumpy 1991 action flick, which pairs Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke as a modern-day cowboy and his biker buddy, has a ramshackle story over which director Simon Wincer displays little control, ultimately turning to desperate outbursts of cartoonish and realistic violence. Rourke is already becoming a self-parody, Johnson gets points by playing it straight, and Vanessa Williams pops up to sing a couple of silky numbers in a nothing role. The hi-def transfer looks fine; lone extra is a vintage featurette. 

(Warner Archive)
Richard Donner's 1985 medieval adventure yarn about cursed lovers transformed into a hawk by day (her) and a wolf by night (him) soars whenever Giuseppe Rotunno's glistening photography shows off incredible Italian locales and sunsets, but falls down whenever Matthew Broderick's utterly—and wrongly—contemporary petty thief is onscreen. On the plus side, Michelle Pfeiffer has never looked more enchantingly lovely in Rotunno's golden-hued lighting, and the movie does work its spell for those in an unfinicky romantic mood. The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate.

(Arrow USA)
This brash, sardonic 1969 yakuza thriller follows a mobster just out of prison who finds that, with his boss near death and his gang broken up, there's a deadly rival for both a young woman and his very life. Director Yasuharu Hasebe's widescreen black and white compositions allow this epic story to play out on an equally expansive canvas, and his unflagging pace glosses over any holes in plotting and flimsy character development. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras include interviews.

The River 
In 1951, French director Jean Renoir traveled to India for his first color film, a visually opulent but dramatically inert adaptation of Rumer Godden's book about three sisters in Calcutta. Although Renoir's painterly eye—like his artist father's—was impeccable, The River lacks the narrative propulsion and wisdom about human behavior of his all-time masterpieces The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion. Still, this ravishing film looks even more exquisite on Criterion's Blu-ray release, whose plethora of extras includes Renoir and Martin Scorsese intros, a video essay and a documentary, Around The River, on Renoir and the film.

DVDs of the Week
CPO Sharkey—Complete 1st Season 
It's hard to believe, but in 1976, when his insult humor ("you hockey puck" was one of his few inoffensive lines) was in vogue and he was a Tonight Show regular, Don Rickles actually starred in this alternately amusing and cringeworrthy sitcom as a long-time navy officer dealing with recruits who are bumpkins and ne'er-do-wells. The first season, comprising 15 episodes, has decent laughs, most of them—and the warning on the box bears this out—instances of his usual sense of humor that is too politically incorrect for today's audiences. The lone extra is a hilarious bit on Carson in which, for once, Rickles himself is the butt of the joke.

Every Little Crook and Nanny 
(Warner Archive)
Evan Hunter's rollicking farcical novel about a resourceful nanny pitted against a group of underworld criminals was turned into a plodding 1972 movie by director Cy Howard that fatally lacks the book's unsubtle but skewed humor. Despite a formidable cast that includes Victor Mature, Lynn Redgrave, Dom DeLuise, Isabel Sanford, Pat Morita and Austin Pendleton, the pedestrian movie plods along for 100 minutes without ever settling into a comic groove.

Matisse—From MOMA and Tate Modern 
(Seventh Art)
The recent exhibit Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs—showcasing the French master's final decade, when he created a startling series of richly colored paper cut-outs that underscored his dazzling creativity and originality—was a smash at London's Tate Modern and New York's Museum of Modern Art. This smart but sober 90-minute documentary overview comprises close-up views of its many highlights, informative interviews with curators and experts, well-chosen excerpts of Matisse's own words and glimpses at his storied career.

A Year in Champagne 
(First Run)
This stimulating documentary about the region of France where the original bubbly is made entertainingly explores the background of the world-renowned sparkling wine itself, including visits to some estates that have made the beloved stuff for centuries. But director David Kennard also gives a valuable primer on the history of the hardscrabble land where grapes are grown, which is drenched with the blood of both World Wars. Extras are additional scenes and short films.

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